No trip for me would be complete without an array of things going wrong. Among the things I had not expected this time? We were ordered off a plane in China, where no fewer than seven security staff in gold-braided green uniforms grumpily questioned me in Chinese, which I do not speak, and ultimately began chuckling among themselves before telling us to get back on the plane….and then somehow at the next stop I managed to misplace a son’s passport inside the brightly-lit, chair-less international portion of the Beijing Airport, where we had an overnight layover.
I do not even count unprecedented weather events–such as encountering the worst skiing conditions in recorded history when I attempted to take my daughter skiing in Vermont, only to find that in fact it already was mud season. (This was after I had driven four hours to the wrong side of the mountain–the one that was completely closed off. I cursed Jacques, my wayward GPS guy.)
Jim had all kinds of nifty mad scientist weather gadgetry to assist in meticulous planning for each day and every trip. I’m more a look-outside-the-window and get a more-or-much-less accurate forecast. I might well skip the coat in twenty-degree weather because it looked sunny out there. Planning, all in all, is not my strong suit.
I have left all of my own clothing sitting on the bed at home while we took off for a ten-hour drive with our children.
I left all our children’s things behind in a Nantucket hotel room when charged with the minimal task of packing them up after a two-day trip when they were quite small and relatively unencumbered.
After the advent of heightened domestic security, I had difficulty figuring out why I am always the one plucked for the imaging, the full search, the withering security questions. But as my son convincingly explained to me during this trip, the answer is simple: I am such an overtly nervous traveler that the anxiety emanating from me would lead anyone to think I am either a vastly suspicious person, or possibly the kind of escaped patient who should not be without adult supervision.
Fortunately, this time my children provided adult supervision.
Planning was prominent in Jim’s wheelhouse, and he loved to plan family trips. So opposite was I from him in this regard that I required a news blackout: just tell me what to pack (in the event I remember to bring it) and where we we need to show up.
The news blackout was a protective device that no longer can shield me. All family tasks and decisions now ultimately, and very much against my will, are mine.
My daughter took on the planning role for the Japan trip. She was, after all, the invitee.
I had to add something to the travel-disaster repertoire during our trip–but nothing of the magnitude that seemed to make its way into one of my son’s views, leading me to wonder whether we had wandered into a Rod Serling script.
It began during a hurried layover in Seattle. One son stayed with our bags, facing the floor-to-ceiling window, while we ran to find food before the flight to Osaka. We returned to him as he looked out the window, then calmly said, “That plane’s on fire.”
Sure enough, suited-up people with hoses were spraying down an Alaska engine that had burst into flames. We watched as the fire was put out.
As we flew back over the sea from Osaka, this time chasing darkness, my son looked down from his window seat and pointed out that a fire had just started on a ship far below us. The plane sped forward and we could only hope that fire also had been put out with dispatch.
Of course I do not truly believe that my son has pyrokinetic powers, but having him draw my eyes to what he spotted ahead of the curve reinforced for me my husband’s innate sense of proportion.
A few short months before my husband’s diagnosis with pancreatic cancer, a colleague of mine had a very bad day in court. In an uncharacteristic stab at affording some sense of proportion regarding our work woes, I forwarded him the story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, who had recently died at the age of 93. Yamaguchi had been on a trip to Hiroshima when the first atomic bomb was dropped: “The ground roared and quivered, snapped and leaped, tossing Yamaguchi out of the ditch nearly a meter into the air. As he fell, the fireball imploded overhead and began to rise at stupendous speed, creating a vacuum that for a second or two threatened to draw the engineer upward from the face of the Earth.” Badly burned, he still managed to make his way home over the next days, crossing over bodies on a river that was now without a bridge, in order to find his family. . . in Nagasaki.
In our earliest years together, as college students, I occasionally asked my husband-to-be how he managed to remain so calm. “I don’t sweat the small stuff,” he said.
As it turned out, he didn’t sweat the most monumental of life’s trials, either. He faced them with unerring grace.
I still frequently get lost in small daily crises, but I realize that–as aggravating as these tribulations can be–most are matters of mere inconvenience.
There was something of a debate about Mr. Yamaguchi, revived around the time of his death: was his story that of one of the unluckiest men (to have been present where both nuclear bombs were dropped) or one of the luckiest (to have survived both bombings, and lived into his 90s)?
There is no debate about my husband Jim among anyone who knew and loved him: even when he knew how short his days with us would be, he considered himself a lucky man.
(c) 2012 Stephanie M. Glennon